Thursday, May 26, 2011

Camping Got Something Right, but only by accident

Before we permanently assign Harold Camping to the theological kook bin, we might want to consider what made his prophecy so compelling to so many people, including, or maybe mostly, those who dismissed or ridiculed it.
Camping’s true believers are not of much interest to me.  But I am interested in what made the media fall all over themselves to cover the story, and what inspired such interest in it from the religious establishment, annoyed atheists, and amused onlookers.
My guess is this.  Camping touched a nerve that triggered a certain anxious fear that maybe there is some truth in all this last judgment stuff.  However much one may boldly proclaim that God does not exist, Camping exposed the raw underside of nervous doubt about that.  The jokes, ridicule and party planning sounded more than a little like so much whistling in the dark against the hobgoblins in which one claims not to believe.  I suspect that on Saturday night a large number of people who have claimed to be spiritual but not religious seriously intended to go to church on Sunday morning.  I wonder if they did?
What I think is demonstrated by all this is an underlying hunger for spiritual truth gnawing at the souls of all people, and especially those who have never heard the good news proclaimed in any helpful way.  I’m not sure what to do about that except to say that I think it’s time that we quit moaning over the decline of main line Christianity and begin proclaiming that Good News with pride and confidence.  I’d like to hear more about what you might think about it.

3 comments:

Tom said...

You point, Steve, to a hunger gnawing at those who "have never heard the good news proclaimed in any helpful way." The failure here is marked by "helpful": the words offered are not heard as helpful. They don't strike home to first of all expose the heart as hungry. Listening does not feel like: my heart is hungry for these words.

But I think you're right, Steve, the heart is hungry. So why do the words fail to strike home? Their repetition has become hollow but why? They will sound hollow as long as the speaker is not him or herself speaking from out of the immediacy of the hunger for spiritual truth. ––And what does that sound like from a pulpit? And how face to face?

Country Parson said...

Good questions Tom. I'm going to take a shot at them this Sunday.

Anonymous said...

You say Camping's prophecy "annoyed atheists". Actually they should be grateful, since this type of thing keeps them in business, at least in the publishing business. It doesn't even slow down the crowd of prophecies of doom to name a fixed and certain date which, to anyone familiar with the long history of such prophecies, is bound to be wrong, and then have to be revised (and often, prudently left vague, as in Mark 13.32). But the Millerites of the 1840s suvived a disappointing date, as Seventh Day Adventists, still having visiting speakers proclaim the End Times, did the Jehovah's Witnesses a little later, as did the Saints of the Latter Days, still prospering in spite of Joseph Smith's several date namings,and ditto Mohamnmed in the 620s and 630s. Before the last writings of the New Testament there were already doubters, as modern doom prophets love to quote in rebuttal of skeptics (2 Peter 3.3 ff). Dr B